Just a few weeks before my 70th birthday in April, a friend from High Rolls, N.M., sent me a booklet that tells all about my birth year, 1939. It’s an easy-to-read booklet whose facts I can hardly believe.
Let me explain:
All my life I’ve refused to believe that things could ever inflate as many as 10 times. For example, if I could buy a Coke for a nickel during my youth, I would never expect to pay 10 times that amount or 50 cents, even if I lived to be a hundred.
Not convinced? Look at eggs. I often got sent to Peña’s grocery store, right across the street from my childhood home on Railroad Avenue, to buy an egg. Not a dozen eggs, just one. The woman who tended the store most of the time, Lucy Peña, would charge a nickel.
That comes out to 60 cents a dozen, which, until recently, was pretty much what we paid in stores. If we overlook quality, we see there are probably a host of things that we can get for a barely inflated amount.
But back to my refusal to believe things. A fountain drink at a convenience store or a fast-food place, can cost up to two dollars, 40 times more than the nickel we used to pay.
Where my dad used to work there was a Coke machine (it sold only Coke, the six-ounce bottles) that required customers to insert a nickel, pull a lever that rotated a huge tub of cokes and exposed one bottle, which we accessed by lifting a little door. The owner of the business, B.M. Werley, said he believed that was the only place in town to buy a Coke for a nickel, and he never explained whether the company made any profit from the machine or whether it was there just as a convenience.
Like gas wars, Cokes inflate indiscriminately. It used to be that motorists would drive all the way through town to buy gas a penny cheaper than the rest. Now, because of the “I” word, inflation, there’s often a difference of as much as a dime per gallon.
So, what was the average price of a house in the U.S. in 1939? It averaged $3,850. A new car sold for 700 70 years ago. Have cars inflated more than 10 times? You do the math. How many times larger is $30,000 than $700?
Depending on who told the story, my folks paid $1,000 or $1,200 for their house, which appreciated about 60 times in 60 years. My dad, who always equated price with value, insisted he paid the higher figure. “The other neighbors paid only $1,000 for their houses, and they got the cheaper ones.”
Mom would counter with, “Oh no, we only paid $1,000 for our house. We didn’t want the neighbors to think we were snobs.” Did you hear the one about the dude who went horse-shopping? He asked a horseman the price of a horse for sale, a nag on her last legs. “$4,000 puts you in the saddle.”
But the prospective buyer realized that amount was beyond the value of the horse, so he asked why the seller was asking so much. The reply: “I just thought you might want a $4,000-horse.”
The year I was born, people earned on average $1,729, gas sold for 10 cents a gallon, ground coffee was 40 cents a pound, and most postage was 3 cents.
Who even carries small change these days? About the only use for loose coins is to satisfy the cravings of my granddaughters, Carly and Celina, who believe it’s a mortal sin to pass by a gumball machine without making a deposit.
The other uses are as tax, to avoid having a break a large bill, or as a guilt-less, currency-less offering to the people who hang out near the entrance to restaurants, asking for a dime for a cup of coffee. But didn’t that price for java end about 50 years ago?
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What’s a fiesta parade without marching bands?
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During an interview earlier this year, Elba C de Baca, the subject of an Optic Senior Profile, naturally asked me about my relatives. The two I identified were my mother, the late Marie Trujillo, and her kid sister, Manuelita Lucero, 94.
Elba was busy answering questions posed by our feature writer, Lupita Gonzales, when she interrupted to say, “Oh, yes, now I remember your mom and aunt.”
C de Baca went on to recite a joke she heard one of them tell Father Luis Jaramillo, who at the time was the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Church.
After hearing the punchline, I recalled the exact joke from laity to clergy. And I left Elba’s house in Mineral Hill quite impressed with her ability to recall with such clarity, that joke, uttered probably 20 years earlier.